The origins of Crewe pub names
PUBLISHED: 23:15 24 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:40 19 January 2016
The arrival of trains in Crewe brought great changes to this town and subsequently, to the social life of the residents. Mike Smith delves into the local pub culture
‘All change at Crewe’ has been a familiar announcement to rail passengers ever since the Cheshire town underwent a remarkable change of its own. In the 1830s, Crewe was a rural village with a population of 70. Four decades later, it was a busy industrial town with more than 40,000 inhabitants. The engine that drove this transformation was a decision taken in 1843 by the Grand Junction Railway Company.
Having opened a station near Crewe Hall to serve their new line between Warrington and Birmingham, the company decided to build their locomotive workshops in the same locality. Crewe would become the most important railway junction in the land and its engineering works would go on to manufacture no fewer than 7,000 steam locomotives.
The company that altered the face of Crewe has given its name to the Grand Junction pub, housed in a modern brick building on Heath Street. Landlord Terry Evans told me that the current hostelry is a replacement for its namesake, which was demolished to make way for a new market centre. Drinkers at the bar joined in with their own reflections on the changing town, with regular John Snape recalling that the Empire cinema once occupied the site of the present pub.
Although John recognises that the Grand Junction does not have the external appearance normally associated with a pub, he says that it does have the friendly atmosphere you would expect in a traditional local and serves ‘the best pint in town’. For his part, the landlord is clearly delighted to run an establishment that celebrates Crewe’s railway history and he is planning to open a second pub in the town which will contain seating salvaged from an old railway carriage.
The story of Crewe’s evolution as a railway town is told on a series of murals in Gaffers’ Row, a Wetherspoon’s pub in nearby Victoria Street. The text was supplied by local historians Howard Currar and Michael Gilsenan, who record that the street has replaced several terraces built by the railway company to house their workers, while Gaffers’ Row, constructed for the company’s foremen, has survived and stands a few yards from the pub.
The public house, which opens at 8am and attracts a regular breakfast-time clientele, occupies a building that has served as a supermarket, an electrical shop and a furniture store. However, perhaps by chance rather than by deliberate design, it complements the railway theme by being remarkably similar in appearance to some of the stations that serve the London Underground.
According to Currar and Gilsenan, the residents of Crewe Hall were appalled by the erosion of the rural charm of this part of Cheshire caused by the coming of the railway works, but much of that rural charm is still to be found in three villages located within a few miles of the town. All three possess seventeenth-century pubs of great character.
Haslington is located two miles north-east of Crewe. Its old buildings include a beautiful timber-framed hall, a picturesque thatched cottage and the Hawk Inn, which has wonderful features, both within and without.
The panelled Oak Room has an elaborate oak mantelpiece rumoured to have been salvaged from a sailing ship, while another room features an exposed section of wattle and daub, carefully preserved under glass. The woodwork on the exterior carries several inscriptions, including ‘The Hawk inn - be it known of good ale and dry stables’. The stables have gone now, but the good ale remains.
Thanks to that good ale, coupled with fine food and a welcoming log fire, the Hawk is a popular venue for meetings. Landlord Neville Simon told me that groups which use the inn include Crewe and Nantwich Advanced Motorists, South Cheshire Advanced Motorcyclists and a group of driving instructors – who obviously do a good job in the area!
Weston, three miles south-east of Crewe, is another village with a picturesque inn at its core. The White Lion has a long timber-framed exterior which carries the date 1652. It was acquired last year by Mark Trotter, Colin Starkey and Samantha Norris, who became the landlady.
Samantha said: ‘The White Lion started life as a farmhouse and became a coaching inn. Thanks to lots of extensions carried out over the years and space for over 70 vehicles in the car park, we can now operate as a 17-bedroom hotel and conference centre.’
Colin, who is head chef, takes pride in the pub being ‘a purely fresh food establishment, with almost all the items on the extensive menu being created from scratch on the premises’. The dining area is known as the 1652 Restaurant and Colin’s special ‘1652 Sweet’ comprises strawberry and dates with saffron and honey cream, filo pastry and Snugbury’s ice cream.
Another pub called the White Lion is to be found in Barthomley, seven miles south-east of Crewe. Laura Condliffe became the tenant of this wonderful old inn in 2006 and quickly made her mark. She gained a reputation far and wide for her home-cooked, locally-sourced food and her pub was named Marston’s Pub of the Year in 2007 and Best Tenanted Pub in the North West in 2008. Built in 1614, the inn is timber-framed and thatched, with an interior that has original beams, stone floors and panelling.
Tom Lester, who was enjoying a pint with his friend Dave Williams, said: ’I have been coming to this pub for 52 years and it has not been spoilt in any way in that time. This is how England used to be’.
The three old inns we have visited have given us an idea of how the Crewe area looked before the Grand Junction Railway arrived. Since the locomotive works closed, it has been ‘all change’ yet again for the town, with much demolition and redevelopment, but, as we have seen, the names of two of its newest public houses are a reminder of the remarkable part that Crewe played in the railway age.